Secondary teachers are to campaign for a return to their pre-2014 sick pay entitlements, which were significantly reduced during the austerity crisis.

However the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which oversees the public service has ruled out any return to the previous regime, noting that since 2013, the reforms have delivered cumulative savings of €167 million.

Delegates at the ASTI conference in Wexford unanimously passed a motion mandating the union leadership to negotiate with the relevant ministers for a return to the pre-September 2014 sick leave arrangements.

Prior to the 2014 cuts, civil and public servants were generally entitled to six months of medically certified sick leave on full pay, with a further six months on half pay.

However, teachers were entitled to a year on full pay, but no period on half pay.

From 2014, civil and public servants leave entitlements were halved to three months on full pay and a further three months on half pay.

However, in cases of critical illness such as cancer, the old six-month periods on full and half pay were retained.

Delegates also unanimously backed a motion demanding that the Department of Education and Skills should not count public holidays, weekends, school holidays or days when schools are closed as sick leave.

John Conneely said the current situation was unfair for a teacher who might be out of work for a long time, as teachers are only scheduled to attend school for 166 days.

This left 199 days off - and when they were included in sick leave, the teacher could easily reach the threshold for a reduction of their sick pay

Suzy Hall described how she had been pushed into unpaid sick leave during the 1990s due to recurring cancer - and was applauded when she asked why the Government should profit from a teacher's illness.

She noted that those unpaid periods had consequences, as they were "whacked" off her pension and retirement lump sum. 

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said it was not considering a return to pre-2014 paid sick leave limits.

It said it had reviewed the operation of the Public Service Sick Leave Scheme and are in the course of implementing changes endorsed by the Labour Court.

It said that since the scheme was introduced in March 2014, the rate of sick leave across the public service has fallen by 0.3% - down to 4%.

At the same time, the number of days lost to sick leave per full-time equivalent employee has fallen by 0.7 days, down to 8.8 days.

It said the total cost of sick leave across the public service for 2017 is estimated at €341.5 million, representing a cumulative saving of €167 million since 2013.

Meanwhile, 60% of teachers would not recommend the career to their own children or their students, according to a survey of members carried out by the Teachers Union of Ireland.

A similar number said they found the job "often" or "always" stressful.

In the self-selecting online survey 76% of respondents said they believed Government policies and social change over the last decade or so had changed the profession for the worse.

However, 60% of those who completed the survey said they had as much enthusiasm for the job now as when they started.